Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2016

Chad Kelly takes the No. 1 spot.

Spring practice has finished for all 14 SEC teams, but the question marks at quarterback for most of the league will continue into the fall. Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs are easily the top returning quarterbacks in the league, with LSU’s Brandon Harris, Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight and Georgia’s Jacob Eason in the next group. Cooper Bateman holds a slight edge at Alabama, but Blake Barnett and David Cornwell will continue to push for the starting job. The question marks under center continue with new starters at Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn and South Carolina. 


How do the new starters in the SEC project with proven options like Dobbs and Kelly? Athlon has ranked all 14 starters for 2016.


To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2016. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2016 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the SEC for 2016.


Ranking the SEC’s Quarterbacks for 2016


1. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Uncertainty is the word that comes to mind when ranking the SEC quarterbacks for 2016. However, there’s no doubt which signal-caller ranks No. 1. In his first year with the Rebels, Chad Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 31 scores and earned second-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press. Kelly also completed 65.1 percent of his passes and connected on eight plays of 50 yards or more. Even though standout receiver Laquon Treadwell is off to the NFL, Kelly should have another All-SEC caliber season and finish 2016 as the league’s No. 1 quarterback.


Related: SEC's Top 25 NFL Draft Prospects for 2017


2. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


The stock on Dobbs’ career is trending up entering 2016. The Georgia native led all SEC quarterbacks by rushing for 671 yards last season and threw for 2,291 yards and 15 scores in 13 starts. Dobbs also produced one of the SEC’s top individual performances from last season, accounting for 430 total yards and five scores in a 38-31 win over Georgia. Tennessee needs to stretch the field more with its passing attack in 2016, but with an improved group of receivers and Dobbs’ development over the last three years, this offense should easily rank among the best in the SEC.


3. Brandon Harris, LSU

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Ranking Harris at No. 3 shows how thin the SEC is at quarterback entering the 2016 season. In his first full season as a starter in 2015, Harris completed 53.6 percent of his throws for 2,158 yards and 13 scores. He also added 226 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Harris quietly connected on seven passes of 50 yards or more, which tied for third among SEC quarterbacks last year. While Harris still has a lot to prove, he’s surrounded by a good supporting cast and now has a full season of starts under his belt. Slight improvement out of the passing game could be enough to help LSU push Alabama in the SEC West.


4. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M

2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Knight’s decision to transfer to Texas A&M was a huge boost to a program that lost Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen to transfer prior to the Music City Bowl. Knight started 15 games over three years at Oklahoma, accounting for 4,277 total yards and 33 overall scores. The Aggies have a strong supporting cast in place, starting with one of the SEC’s top receiving corps and an intriguing transfer at running back in Keith Ford. Texas A&M doesn’t need Knight to be prolific, but his experience and ability to make plays with his legs should provide stability for the offense.


Related: The SEC's Top 15 Assistant Coach Hires for 2016


5. Jacob Eason, Georgia

2016 Year of Eligibility: Freshman


It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Eason rank a few spots higher on this list by the end of 2016. The Washington native ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2016 247Sports Composite and was regarded as a five-star recruit. Eason enrolled in time to compete in spring workouts and had a strong showing in the G-Day game, completing 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards and one score. Talent certainly isn’t the issue for Eason. However, will coach Kirby Smart start Brice Ramsey or Greyson Lambert early in the year while Eason gains experience?


6. Cooper Bateman, Alabama

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


It’s hard to get a good read on Alabama’s quarterback situation, but Bateman seemed to have an edge over David Cornwell and Blake Barnett exiting spring ball. The junior has the most experience of the candidates vying for the starting job and completed 37 of 52 throws for 291 yards and one score last season. Bateman also started one game (Ole Miss) in 2015. Even though there is some uncertainty here as to the projected starter, Alabama should be fine at quarterback. 


7. Austin Allen, Arkansas

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Bret Bielema’s decision to hire Dan Enos as the Razorbacks’ coordinator paid huge dividends last season. Arkansas led the SEC (conference-only games) by averaging 34.4 points a game and generated 6.83 yards per play. However, Enos has some renovating to do this offseason, as quarterback Brandon Allen, tight end Hunter Henry, running back Alex Collins and standout linemen Sebastian Tretola and Denver Kirkland must be replaced. Austin Allen – Brandon’s brother – is expected to take over under center in 2016. Austin has attempted only 19 passes over the last two years, but the guess here is Enos and Bielema will get steady play from the Fayetteville native in 2016.


Related: College Football's Top 20 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2016


8. Luke Del Rio, Florida

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Will Grier’s suspension derailed Florida’s offense last season, as the Gators only eclipsed more than 200 passing yards once over the final seven games. Treon Harris started the final eight contests under center but is expected to move to wide receiver in 2016. With Harris changing positions, Del Rio, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby and freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask battled for the starting job in spring ball. Del Rio – a transfer from Oregon State – seemed to take control of the No. 1 spot during spring practice and should bring stability to the quarterback position for McElwain.  


9. Drew Barker, Kentucky

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


It’s no secret Kentucky’s hopes of reaching a bowl in 2016 could rest on the development of Barker under new coordinator Eddie Gran. Barker was a four-star recruit in the Wildcats’ 2014 class and received his first extended action last season. The Kentucky native completed 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards and one score in five games but never eclipsed more than 130 passing yards in a single contest. Barker was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, and it’s up to Gran to mold the sophomore into a consistent quarterback to improve an offense that managed 17.5 points in SEC games last year.


10. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Replacing arguably the best player in school history (Dak Prescott) won’t be easy. However, coach Dan Mullen has some intriguing options vying for the starting job. Damian Williams is back after a redshirt year, while Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley are promising sophomores who gained experience in limited action in 2015. Fitzgerald completed 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards and three scores last season. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Georgia native is a slight favorite to take the first snap in 2016.


Related: The SEC's Top 15 Assistant Coach Hires for 2016


11. Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina

2016 Year of Eligibility: Freshman


Will the Gamecocks turn to a former walk-on (Perry Orth) or hand the reins to top recruit Brandon McIlwain? Orth threw for 1,929 yards and 12 scores in 12 appearances last season and was expected to finish spring at the top of the depth chart. However, he missed part of spring practice due to a broken collarbone, allowing McIlwain to state his case for the starting job. The talented freshman completed 19 of 26 passes for 169 yards and two scores in South Carolina’s spring game.


12. John Franklin, Auburn

2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Franklin is penciled in here, but Sean White and Jeremy Johnson remain in the mix for the starting spot. Regardless of which quarterback gets the nod under center, Auburn needs big-time improvement from its offense. In SEC games last year, the Tigers averaged only 22.1 points a game. Franklin is still developing as a passer, but the former Florida State quarterback is the team’s most-dynamic option under center. At East Mississippi Community College in 2015, Franklin rushed for 451 yards and nine touchdowns, while throwing for 733 yards and seven scores.


13. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason removed Shurmur’s redshirt midway through 2015, which allowed the Pennsylvania native to gain valuable experience for 2016. In five appearances, Shurmur threw for 503 yards and five touchdowns and completed 42.7 percent of his passes. While Shurmur has room to improve, he also needs more help from the supporting cast. The good news? Vanderbilt has help coming in the form of lineman Andrew Jelks and receiver C.J. Duncan after both missed 2015 due to injury.


14. Drew Lock, Missouri

2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Missouri’s offense struggled mightily last season by averaging only 9.1 points in SEC contests. New coordinator Josh Heupel is tasked with improving this unit, but question marks remain at several positions exiting spring ball. Lock was pressed into action as a true freshman last year and threw for 1,332 yards and four scores. He also tossed eight picks and completed only 49 percent of his throws. Lock should be better in his second season as the starter. However, he needs more help from the supporting cast to rank higher on this list.

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